Wishes and regrets with ‘I wish‘ and ‘If only…‘
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To express wishes and regrets in English, you can use the wish + preterite or if only + preterite formulas:
1 – Wish
Wish is used to express wish or regret in the present or past. Wish is followed by a preposition with a subject and a verb.
The verb wish is used to express wish or regret in the present or past tense. Wish is followed by a proposal with a subject and a verb:
- I wish I knew the truth.
To express regret in the present
Wish + prerrit (modal) expresses a regret about the present. The desired thing has no chance of being realized. It may concern the speaker or another person:
- I wish I was rich.
- I wish you didn’t get so upset about her.
⚠️ If we use the verb be, we can use was or were, were being of a more sustained register:
- I wish I was rich. /I wish I were rich.
- I wish he wasn’t so bossy.
To express regret in the past
Finally, we can also express regret about an event in the past. In this case, we use wish + past perfect:
- I wish we had never come here.
- I wish he had told me the truth.
- I wish you hadn’t done that.
To express a request or irritation
To express a request indirectly, to express a feeling of irritation or to talk about an event that has a chance of being realized, we use wish + would:
- I wish you would taik to me more often.
- I wish somebody would answer the phone.
To express a forecast or a wish:
Wish followed by the verb + to is similar to the verb ‘to want’ or ‘would like’, with an idea of forecasting in the future:
- They wish to have five children.
- We wish to stay for four nights.
You can also use ‘wish’ with a name to wish for an event:
- We wish you a merry Christmas.
- I wish you a pleasant journey.
- I wish you a happy birthday.
⚠️ ‘I wish to‘ can have the meaning of ‘ I want to‘ but it’s very formal and not used very often:
- I wish to make a complaint.
- I wish to see the manager.
2 – If only
If only + preterite allows you to express wishes in relation to an unreal situation:
- If only I had a car.
- If only you came to see me more often.
- If only I could speak Spanish!
- If only you had told me before!
With the verb be, we sometimes use the form were to all persons (mainly in writing):
- If only I were / was richer.
- If only I weren’t / wasn’t so tall.
To express regrets about a past situation, it’s necessary to use the perfect past instead of the priest:
- If only they had come.
3 – Little tip !
One can also express regret or reproach with should have + past participle:
- We should have taken the bus.